Twilight years of a cinema

On Sept. 23, 1963, 50 years ago, a small cinema opened in Gibsons.

According to the Coast News of that week, a bagpiper played at the opening, owner R.L. Jackson made his remarks, and about 100 people turned out from all over the Coast to see two scenic films, and later, an advertised feature starring Doris Day.

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The new cinema had another claim to fame: it was designed by the Canadian iconic architect Arthur Erickson, who was already working on plans for a dramatic Simon Fraser University that opened in 1965. The Robson Square courthouse project and the Museum of Anthropology, both designed by Erickson, were yet to come.

It was the Jackson Brothers logging company that started the theatre to give workers something to do in the sleepy community. Norma Jackson worked in the film industry, and she knew Erickson. He drew a simple sketch for her, and later he worked on the building's plans.

Enter the Boothroyds. Ray Boothroyd was selling film equipment for Vancouver's Lyric Theatre when he was asked if he would go to Gibsons for just six months to run the projector at the new cinema. He agreed on a handshake. Thirty years later he and his wife, Pamela, were still there. They owned and operated the cinema until 1995 when the business and building were sold.

"It felt like an adopted child," Ray told Coast Reporter. "We served it."

It was the Boothroyds who supervised an addition. The original cinema, called the Twilight, could only run 16mm film, and often independent theatre owners had to wait until the 35mm blockbusters were converted.

In 1965 they made a dramatic addition to the building, surrounding the original shell with an outer layer that buffered traffic noise and offered an enlarged projection room for 35mm and an enhanced screen for the new Cinemascope films. The cinema closed for construction and re-opened in June 1965 with The VIPs starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton.

The building became a community hub.

The Boothroyds' daughter, Karen, took dancing lessons in what was formerly the town hall, a rickety building at Armours Beach. The Boothroyds suggested that the dance teacher move to the theatre's stage where the young dancers could train for competition.

Pamela Boothroyd became involved in organizing dance festivals and headed up a committee. Her daughter continued to dance as an adult, giving lessons upstairs in a dance studio. (She still teaches flamenco song and dance in Vancouver.)

The Boothroyds recall many performances: Driftwood Players and the Music Society mounted productions there. The Sunshine Coast Music Festival used the venue's good acoustics for part of their syllabus, speech arts.

Johnny Crawford, who played The Rifleman's son on TV, arrived in person to promote his film The Inbreaker and make teenagers swoon. In 1989, The Beachcombers filmed an episode there.

"We tried to be professional with what little we had," Ray commented.

One time they asked a rising star pop group who were travelling through to Powell River if they would stop by to perform. The Poppy Family (remember Which Way You Goin' Billy?) agreed, tickets were sold, but the ferry was late. Disappointed, the Boothroyds had to return the admission fee and the audience dispersed. Finally the band arrived, late, and the Boothroyds sent out a group of small boys to round up the audience and bring them back!

Other memories include midnight horror movies featuring Boris Karloff that the couple would run from midnight to six a.m. Going to the show in 1965 cost $1 for an adult, 65 cents for students, but when the Sound of Music was released, the owners had to comply with the studios and put the prices up to $2 and $1.25. The four back rows were reserved seating, and to this day, Pamela still hears from those who sneaked their first kiss in the back of the Twilight.

Between 1995 and 2013, the building and the business have passed through several owners and managers, each updating and adding to its comfort.

Today, Gibsons Cinema manager Brenda Louie was delighted to learn more about the cinema's roots. She can still see where the original stairwells ran up to the projection booth - they are now converted to storage closets. Everything is digital now - the 3D projection is done by computer, the movies are in units much like external hard drives, and projection takes place at the press of a button. The 5.1 Surround Sound lives behind the screen, and the upper floor, no longer a dance studio, is rented for living quarters.

The current owners, Vivian and Tao Quan, are currently in China, so no special event is planned for the anniversary, but if you want to check out what's playing, you can click on www.gibsonscinema.ca for details.

© Copyright Coast Reporter

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